Givenchy, Chanel – Hix. The restaurateur’s name sits oddly above the designer-label haven of the Selfridges ground floor, just past the Prada and Dolce & Gabbana concessions. Yet the ‘Hix Restaurant & Champagne Bar’ (to give its full name) would look at home in an airport shopping mall, which – in some ways – is exactly what this corner of Selfridges is. For our fellow diners have not specially sought out this new, third London location for Mark Hix’s growing restaurant empire any more than I’m likely to impulse-buy a Balenciaga handbag. Most of the drinkers in the mezzanine level Champagne bar are blow-ins, the flotsam and jetsam of the department store retail experience.
At the top of the spiral staircase leading to the restaurant’s mezzanine level, the economy seats are to the right, while the truly loaded turn left into the dining area proper. Yet service was far from first-class – it was dizzy, slow and confused (charged at 12.5 per cent), and remained so throughout our meal. Despite this there’s much to enjoy, once your eyes adjust to the prices.
‘Starters. Purple sprouting broccoli £9.25.’ Now that’s got to be pretty impressive broccoli, thinks I. Either that or a typo. But it’s neither. The small plate of steamed cruciferous greens is served with pieces of pickled walnuts (a bit like vinegary olives) and some shavings of Lancashire cheese. It was a lovely combination of flavours, which I suggest you could knock up at home in about five minutes for under a quid. The cheeky pricing continued with another starter of smoked anchovies served in thin, purple discs of cooked beetroot, topped with shavings of fresh horseradish root. Again, a great combo, though £8.75 for a starter portion seems a bit steep.
Throughout the whole meal we were torn between thinking: This is great food, and checking our arms and legs were not going to be removed on departure to settle the bill. Chicken kiev was fried, spry, crisp and dry, the meat favourful and the buttery centre boasted with wild garlic (£16.75). A tiny side dish the size of an ashtray contained steamed spinach for a rapacious £3.95.
But then, a concession to straitened times. ‘Credit crunch ice cream’ at ‘£1.95 per scoop’ was in fact a full-sized dessert portion, and although good, had a gimmicky quality to it. A full-priced dessert or bergamot posset (£6.75) was a triumph, the citrus jelly forming a delicate layer on top of the tower of set cream.
Hix in Soho remains Mark Hix’s flagship restaurant. In contrast, this store-hours brasserie is very much the diffusion line – the T-shirt bearing the logo, rather than then tailor-made suit, and poor value when compared to the real couture. But we liked it for the aerial view from the balustrade of London’s coolest-looking shoppers, for the Nick Strangeway-inspired cocktail list (£13.50 for the ‘Hix Fix’ Champagne cocktail that tastes like cider), and for more living proof that Britannia is once again cool. Guy Dimond